One of the deadliest animals in Colorado, a rattlesnake bite can easily deliver enough venom to kill an adult human. The good news is that these snakes rarely attack people, more likely to strike when they feel threatened versus engaging in purely aggressive behavior. That being said, if you’re hiking on Colorado trails, it’s important to know how to identify a rattlesnake, what to do when you encounter them, and what happens next if a bite occurs.

How to Identify a Rattlesnake

There are two types of rattlesnakes in Colorado, a western rattlesnake and the massasauga. The easiest way to identify both compared to other snake species is by the tell-tale rattler on their tail. The Western Rattler is the larger of the two species, sometimes exceeding 3.5 feet in length. Full-grown Massasauga are generally closer to two feet long.


Western Rattler LA Dawson (wikimedia commons)
Western rattlesnakes are generally covered in patches of light brown. Photo Credit: LA Dawson (wikimedia commons)
Massasauga rattlesnake Tim Vicekrs (wikimedia commons)
Massasaugas are often covered in a grey or tan pattern. At times they can even appear to be covered in black. Photo Credit: Tim Vicekrs (wikimedia commons)

What to Do If You Encounter a Rattlesnake on the Trail

Rattlesnakes tend to hide, whether it’s beneath a rock or in the midst of overgrowth. Generally, if you stick to the trail, you won’t see them, especially with their effective camouflaging. This does mean that it’s important to watch your step while you’re out exploring, as stomping on a rattlesnake will quickly turn a generally timid creature into something much more aggressive.

If you do happen to spot a rattlesnake while you’re on the trail, keep in mind that they probably don’t want much to do with you. If you let them be and keep moving, you can avoid most worst-case scenarios. However, if the snake you see coils, beware. This is their striking pose. Immediately step back at least several feet from where you came from and avoid the snake altogether.

Dog owners – rattlesnakes are one reason why it is important to follow all posted leash laws and to keep your canines under your close watch while in nature. If a dog wanders off the trail and encounters a snake, the snake will likely become defensive due to similarities between a dog and predators like coyotes and foxes.

What to Do If You’re Bitten By a Rattlesnake

If a rattlesnake bites you, the first thing to do is avoid panic. It’s a scary situation and you’ll need medical attention immediately, but speeding up your heart rate is a good way to spread the venom quickly.

Don’t try remedies you’ve heard like sucking the venom out. This wastes time and the only true solution is use of an anti-venom.

If you get bitten, start walking back to your car and call ahead to the nearest medical facility to let them know they’ve got a snake bite victim on the way. This will help them determine if they’ll be able to treat you ahead of time and it will help them prepare for your arrival so that the process is expedited.

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